Politics & Policy

Sen. Leahy Expected to Preside over Senate Impeachment Trial, Not Chief Justice Roberts

Senator Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., August 5, 2020. (Carolyn Kaster/Reuters Pool)

Chief Justice John Roberts will not preside over former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate.

Instead, Senator Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), the Senate’s president pro tempore, will oversee the trial. The House passed one article of impeachment against Trump earlier this month for “incitement of insurrection” after a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol leaving five dead.

Roberts oversaw Trump’s first impeachment trial in 2020, in line with the U.S. Constitution’s directive that the Supreme Court’s chief justice should preside over a Senate impeachment trial of the president.

However, Trump left office on January 20 and the Constitution does not lay out guidelines for how to impeach a former president.

“The president pro tempore has historically presided over Senate impeachment trials of non-presidents,” Leahy said in a statement on Monday. “When presiding over an impeachment trial, the president pro tempore takes an additional special oath to do impartial justice according to the Constitution and the laws. It is an oath that I take seriously.”

He added: “When I preside over the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, I will not waver from my constitutional and sworn obligations to administer the trial with fairness, in accordance with the constitution and the laws.” 

A spokesman for Leahy told The Hill that the responsibility of selecting someone to oversee the trial falls on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.)

“Leaders have been negotiating all process issues about the trial, and all along we have deferred to them for any announcements about this and all other process matters,” the aide said. 

Leahy, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is the highest-ranking senator due to his tenure — he has served in the Senate since 1975.

Some lawmakers, including Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) have pushed back holding an impeachment trial for a former president, as well as the decision to have anyone other than Roberts preside over the trial.

“There’s only one constitutional process for impeachment and it is of the president, not a president,” said Hawley, who has come under fire for his objection to the Electoral College results earlier this month. “It requires the chief justice to preside.”

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